Healthy aging

It's for all of us

senior man with arms raised

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2016

When I was in medical school, one of my favourite rotations was orthopedic surgery. It was always rewarding to help people recover from fractured bones and other types of injuries.

However, one of the discouraging aspects of working in orthopedics was seeing hip fractures. As with other fractures, there are treatment options that can help people to heal and recover from hip fractures. But in addition to the short-term pain and loss of mobility that occurs after these injuries, hip fractures can result in long-term disability – especially for older adults.

Like many other types of injuries, there is much that can be done to prevent hip fractures – and the disability that follows – from occurring. Unfortunately, there is often an assumption that injury prevention and health promotion is only for younger people. But this is not the case – there is much we can do to maximize the health of people at all ages, including older adults. And doing so is becoming increasingly important as the proportion of older Manitobans increases.

The World Health Organization recognizes this. This past May, the World Health Assembly adopted the document: Multisectoral Action for a Life Course Approach to Healthy Aging: Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Aging and Health. This strategy, which has been written for the five-year period from 2016 to 2020, has two goals:

  • To encourage every person to maximize their functional ability.
  • To establish evidence and partnerships necessary to support a Decade of Healthy Aging from 2020 to 2030.

The focus on functional ability represents an important direction. Our health systems work hard to treat and cure disease, but those same systems tend not to dedicate the same effort to maximizing quality of life. It is this shift towards functional ability and maximizing quality (as much as quantity) of life that this report importantly steers towards.

To make this shift, the global strategy focuses on five strategic objectives:

  • Commitment to action on Healthy Aging in every country.
  • Developing age-friendly environments.
  • Aligning health systems to the needs of older populations.
  • Developing sustainable and equitable systems for providing long-term care (home, communities, institutions).
  • Improving measurement, monitoring and research on Healthy Aging.

Fortunately, there are many people in Manitoba already doing this work, and striving to make our province a leader in promoting healthy aging. The article on page 12 of this issue of Wave entitled “Motivated to Move,” provides some terrific examples, including the great work happening at the Reh-Fit Centre and Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital.

Other examples include the leadership provided by groups such as the University of Manitoba’s Centre on Aging, the Manitoba Council on Aging, the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults – Manitoba, and the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres.

These groups have championed activities such as the Age Friendly Communities Initiative, a WHO initiative that encourages communities to adopt policies, services and structures related to the physical and social environment that help seniors “age actively.” In other words, the idea is to have communities take steps to help seniors live safely, enjoy good health and stay involved.

Portage la Prairie was one of four Canadian cities (and 33 worldwide) to take part in the first phase of this project. Since that time, 84 communities in Manitoba, including Winnipeg, have achieved the age-friendly designation. And, more importantly, they have made a statement that healthy aging is a priority for their community.   

The benefits of work like this are not just for older adults – they are for everyone.

When we work together to support older adults to be engaged in their community, and support their health and well-being at the same time, we all reap the benefits and wisdom that our seniors contribute.

This message was brought home to me last year while I was working with a team of writers to produce the 2015 Report on the Health Status of Manitobans for the provincial Health Department.

As part of our research for the report (which can be found at, we consulted with many of the leaders on healthy aging in Manitoba. What we heard from them was almost identical to what the WHO global strategy describes: look at ways to improve the health-care system and long-term care, but at the same time support seniors to live active, engaged and fulfilling lives by working to improve transportation, housing, recreation and employment options.

Improving these determinants of health and well-being has proven time and again to benefit people of all ages. Our work is to create physical and social environments that improve these determinants, making it easier for older adults (and all of us) to have better health and well-being. 

Dr. Michael Routledge is Medical Officer of Health for Southern Health-Santé Sud. He previously served as Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.

Wave: November / December 2016

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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